From A Firestorm Grows A Fan Base
What started out as a scary and frightening situation, may turn out to be a career defining moment for Simona de Silvestro. The way that the twenty-one year old driver from Switzerland handled herself at the moment she found herself trapped in a burning racecar and in the minutes and then days afterwards; would make the most skeptic viewer become an instant fan.
While knowledgeable racing fans knew what an up-and-coming talent Simona was, those that were less-informed wrote her off as just another female trying to cash in on the fame of Danica Patrick. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’ve said more than once, that if Danica is still in the IZOD IndyCar Series next year – she will be regularly out-performed by Simona de Silvestro. There are only two things that Danica has over Simona – experience and equipment. A year from now, de Silvestro will have the experience – hopefully she’ll have better equipment.
But comparing Simona to only the other female drivers makes me feel a little like Brent Musburger – except that I can actually pronounce her name. Simona’s talent crosses gender lines. A much more fair comparison to draw is to look at what EJ Viso did with the same HVM Racing team that Simona is currently driving for. Last year, as a second year driver, EJ Viso’s average finishing position through the first seven races was 18.1, which is identical to what Simona de Silvestro has done as a rookie through the first seven races of this year – and on a smaller budget.
Simona de Silvestro brought impressive credentials to her first season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. She drove in the Atlantic series in 2008 and 2009; winning one race in 2008, while earning four victories in 2009. Although she led the points battle for most of 2009, de Silvestro ultimately finished third in the standings. She also won the 2010 Indianapolis 500 Chase Rookie of the year award.
But all of those impressive entries to her resume won’t carry her as far as the way she handled herself during and after her fiery crash at Texas Motor Speedway on the night of June 5th. As the Holmatro Safety Crew stood around looking hopelessly confused, Simona did the best she could to extricate herself from the encroaching inferno. With the aid of the safety crew, she was finally able to escape a very scary scene.
In the days that have passed, it has become popular to kick the Holmatro Safety Team. I’ve done it as well. Now that we know the outcome, it is almost comical to watch the crew members stare at each other wondering why their hose doesn’t work, while Simona sat in such a precarious spot. But it was no laughing matter.
Over the years, no matter what their sponsored name – the safety crew for BOTH open-wheel series has been superb and far superior to NASCAR’s practice of utilizing local safety workers at each track. I’ve heard it said that this was their “mulligan” or their “one off night”. Well I’m sorry; but I don’t think anyone who deals with the high stakes that they do, can afford an off night. The good thing I’m hearing is that apparently, neither do they. I’ve heard and read that the members of the Holmatro Safety Team were embarrassed and really took this to heart. Surely they will review exactly what happened, develop an immediate back-up plan and then learn to execute said plan. Based on what we’ve all seen over the years from this bunch, I feel confident that we won’t ever see a repeat of the bungling we saw at Texas.
Getting back to Simona de Silvestro…the calmness she displayed for the television interview, just moments after the fire, speaks volumes for her demeanor. It is very easy to become a fan of a young, rookie driver that takes such an event in stride without seeking someone to blame. No one would have blamed her for bashing the safety crew that had seemingly left her in peril moments earlier. She could even be forgiven for slamming her own crew for giving her such an ill-handling car, given the heat of the moment (pun intended). It would have been easy to lay blame anywhere after experiencing such a frightening moment.
Instead, she took it all in stride, assured everyone that her bandaged hand was fine and vowed to be back in the car by Iowa. Even given a couple of days to dwell on what she had been through, she still refused to sound bitter about the whole incident. She just wanted to get to the next race.
This is a racer. This is a racer from the old-school mindset. This is a racer that would make AJ Foyt proud. She has little sponsorship and is saddled with a small team that doesn’t match her talents. But she wants to race and is going about it the only way she knows how – the old fashioned way of starting with a small team, proving yourself and hoping some better funded team owners will take notice
In the meantime, by displaying pure class on and off the track. Simona de Silvestro is quickly growing her fan base. But in one final comparison to Ms. Patrick, Simona’s fan base is comprised mostly of knowledgeable racing fans who appreciate the way she is furthering her career – by driving the wheels off the racecar, not blaming anyone when the car won’t go and making the best of her situation. Here’s hoping some team owners with deeper pockets are taking note.